Reflection by Melissa
 
 

My name is Melissa Maigler and I’m Pat’s wife.  I met Ben in ~2007 when Ben contacted Pat to let him know he’d soon be moving to San Diego for grad school.  He had come to visit San Diego prior to moving here and we all went out to dinner together.  I recall those first moments of friendship and how I immediately felt a kinship with him.  I don’t think for one second that I am alone in this feeling.  Few other people I've encountered have had such an ability to so sincerely listen to others and to tap into the strengths of his friends and family to help them to flourish in their own pursuits.  He was keenly observant and empathetic to changes in the lives of his friends and supportive whenever they needed him. 


He had an incredible ability to teach and trigger discussions often focused on social inequalities, international politics and the interplay of relationships between people.    He was one of the only people I've ever met who strongly desired to formalize these discussions with pre-scheduled specified topics of conversation… of course, to be combined with food.  He would invite people of varying beliefs and backgrounds to these dinner discussions in order to have diversified input into the conversations.     In true Ben fashion, he would e-mail the group links to videos and articles ahead of time so that we could come prepared.  During the discussions, he was incredibly patient and encouraging… trying to get as many people as possible to contribute their perspectives to the conversation and gently guiding everyone back to the topic at hand when we inevitably found ourselves veering off into never-ending bunny trails of topics.   And without fail, we could always look forward to receiving an e-mail from Ben of follow-up notes to further expand on points brought up in the conversations.


Ben also loved kefir (pronounced "keh-feer" according to Ben).  For those that don't know, kefir is a somewhat sour-tasting drink that is sort of a cross between yogurt and milk that is lactose free, contains high levels of probiotics, and is often sold in stores in a variety of flavors.  I distinctly recall going to Kristy and David’s apartment for a meal they were providing us that Ben insisted would not be complete without a bottle of strawberry kefir to wash the meal down…I was officially hooked on it from then on.  Ben loved it for the taste and the protein it fueled him with.    He also enjoyed plain kefir with a splash of Kahlua from time-to-time.  I’m fairly certain he'd become familiar with kefir during his time in the Peace Corp in Kyrgyzstan and evangelized about it from that point on.  “Kefir grains” are the bacteria/yeast that allow kefir to be made and late last year Ben's sister-in-law, Logan, shared some of her kefir grains with Ben.  He transported the grains back to San Diego and immediately began making his own homemade kefir.  Since the grains multiply over time, Ben enthusiastically offered me some grains, which I was a bit hesitant to take on, but he was endlessly encouraging so I accepted them.    After I'd had the grains for a week or two, he even followed up with an e-mail to me to see how the kefir grains were doing.  It did take me a couple weeks of trial-and-error, but I got the knack of it and have been a happy kefir cultivator ever since.  About a week before Ben was to leave for Peru, he e-mailed me to ask if I would essentially babysit his kefir grains while he was gone.  Since kefir grains multiple rapidly, there was really no need for him to bring me his grains since I could've just re-stocked him with new grains from my batch when he returned.  Even though his day had been completely hectic having just flown in from another trip and needing to fly out to Peru in just a few hours, he was extremely insistent on taking the time to drive up to our apartment so that he could drop his own kefir grains off with me.  After seeing the cooler he brought them over in, I finally understood why… He had been savings his multiplying kefir grains that he had been unable to yet give away to friends.   When I expressed astonishment at him having about 50 times as much kefir grains as he needed, he simply said he didn't want them to go to waste and to just distribute them to my friends or to post something on Facebook about it… he even offered to post it himself to reduce the burden suddenly realizing how many grains there were to potentially give away.  I told him not to worry and that I would take care of it… Therefore, to follow through on Ben's wishes, I am happy to share the kefir grains that Ben lovely nourished and grew for the past ~8-months with anyone who wants them.  I have pre-packed as much of the kefir as I could and will be out front of the church and then at the celebration later distributing the grains.  I will have a sign up list if we run out and I will post instructions on how to use the grains on the “Ben & Gil - Please Come Back” Facebook page as well as the Memorial page.


Ben believed in purpose-driven traveling to gain personal, first-hand insights into the world so that he could truly know the realities people were facing internationally so that he could then know how to have a positive influence within that realm.  I’ve cherished many hours culling through Ben’s pictures [while he and Pat would wax philosophic]…


Ben was also incredibly optimistic.  In an e-mail he sent responding to Pat's point that much of rap music is filled with anger, Ben wrote, "I would not say that angst/anger disqualifies something as being inspirational, or even uplifting or positive.  In fact, I believe resisting oppression is at its core life-affirming." 


Ben had an incredible smile and laugh that was infectious.  Even though he could hold incredibly complex and deep conversations, he was also very down-to-earth and appreciated the silly things in life like The Princess Bride and Weird Al Yankovich.  He and Liora got Pat and I completely hooked on YouTube videos from the "misheardlyricguy", which applied humorous interpretations for commonly misunderstood lyrics to popular songs such as Pearl Jam’s song, “Ledbetter.” 


Ben strongly believed in living simply and trying to leave a small environmental footprint on the planet, which we bonded on many times as I have a similar passion for sustainability.  He demonstrated this not only through his vegetarian diet, but also by not focusing on financial or materialistic wealth.  I recall many of our first conversations being focused on the over-proliferation of products and advertising in our society. 


Above all else though, family was most important to Ben…he'd make sure to take trips to see them back on the East Coast regularly and would go on separate excursions when possible with them, including a trip to Central America with his sister Liz and hiking with his brother Eric near their home in New Mexico.  He especially adored playing with his many nieces and nephews, and creating music with his brother, Math.  During a conversation we’d had a couple of months ago I'd asked Ben where he ideally hoped to get a position as a professor.  Without a moment's hesitation he said he wanted to be back in or near DC area so he could be close to his family.  I’m so deeply grateful for the guidance, love and support his family provided him that allowed him to flourish and spread that compassion to others.


Some of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life have been a sole result of Ben's presence in it.  Not just scenic vistas, but by seeing the light of true friendship and dedication he so strongly held between himself and others.  He was one of my closest friends in San Diego and connected me to dozens of amazing individuals that I am eternally grateful to him for.  As much as it saddens me to have this tremendous loss and hole in my heart, my heart had grown bigger in the first place by knowing Ben at all.  I am so honored and blessed to have had the pleasure of being his friend.


I’d like to end by reading one of Ben’s favorite excerpts from the one true poem Bob Dylan ever wrote, Last Thoughts on

Woody Guthrie:


"You can either go to the church of your choice

Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital

You'll find God in the church of your choice

You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital

And though it's only my opinion

I may be right or wrong

You'll find them both

In the Grand Canyon

At sundown"

 

Given at Ben’s Memorial Service on August 14, 2012: